Fighting Famine With Peanuts in Niger

My latest photo essay about addressing the chronic food crisis in Niger with a product called “Plumpy’Nut” is now available as a feature on the VII Photo website.


© Tomas van Houtryve

A malnourished child is weighed on a scale inside the regional hospital in Maradi.


Each year between May and September, Niger is hit with a severe food crisis. The causes are multiple: changes in weather, government incompetence, blights, pests, local debts, population growth and lack of education. Paradoxically, even when harvests are sufficient, hospitals can be faced with legions of malnourished children. With a myriad of complex causes, aid organizations do their best to reduce the number of children dying from hunger. The latest strategy involves “Plumpy’Nut,” a ready-to-use therapeutic food made from fortified peanut butter. Because of its ease of storage and its ability to make children gain weight rapidly, it has been hailed as a miracle product for fighting childhood malnutrition. However, the simple peanut paste is not without its controversies and detractors. With millions affected by global hunger, malnutrition products are a lucrative business, and Nutricet, the French company behind Plumpy’Nut, has defended its patented recipe aggressively. Inspired by the enthusiasm of Plumpy’ Nut, aid organizations are also distributing Plumpy’Doz to 400,000 children in Niger with the aim of prevention. As millions of aid dollars are being spent on purchasing and transporting Nutricet’s products to Africa, the question arises whether a more locally based and sustainable solution should be sought for this chronic hunger problem.


© Tomas van Houtryve

Since the first harvest was particularly bad this year, many families are using the September harvest to pay back debts from the intervening months when food was scarce. That means that despite plenty of food in the fields, many families still go hungry.


For further reading on the role Plumpy’Nut is playing in the strategy to reduce childhood malnutrition, check out this article by my colleague, journalist Anne Guion, in La Vie Magazine (French language) or this piece by Andrew Rice in the New York Times Magazine.


© Tomas van Houtryve for La Vie

Publication in La Vie Magazine

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